When Vertigo debuted “Madame Xanadu” in 2008, the big draw was writer Matt Wagner. The artist on the book, Amy Reeder, had a single credit to her name as the writer and artist of the OEL manga “Fool’s Gold” that had been released by Tokyopop. In the ten issue opening story arc “Disenchanted,” though, Reeder made it clear that she had not only grown in leaps and bounds from her talented and promising debut, but that “Madame Xanadu” marked the arrival of a new great artist.
Last week the final issue of “Madame Xanadu,” #29, went on sale, with Reeder having illustrated the concluding issue of the story arc “Extra Sensory.” “Batwoman” #0 also debuted the same day. Reeder will be alternating story arcs on next year’s ongoing “Batwoman” series with co-creator and co-writer JH Williams III, but for the zero issue, the two shared art chores, with Williams drawing the Batwoman sequence and Reeder handling the story of Batwoman's alter ego, Kate Kane. Reeder spoke with CBR about these two issues available now and the next stage of her career, which includes working as the cover artist on “Supergirl.”
CBR: First, Amy, how did you end up on “Batwoman?” You joked on twitter that you said yes so you could read JH Williams III’s pages before anyone else, but what made you say yes?
AMY REEDER: I was talking to Dan DiDio about possibly having an exclusive. We were trying to figure out what series I could do, and the first one he suggested was “Batwoman.” I was glad that he had so much faith in me and, of course, why wouldn’t I jump at the chance? I’ve always really respected JH and I love the series. To be honest I don’t read a lot of comics, but that was definitely one that I was keeping up on. I love the character. I had met JH previously. I felt like he respected my work, so I wouldn’t be stepping on his toes and messing with his characters. To me it was perfect.
Has it been an adjustment working with full script? I know that ["Madame Xanadu" writer] Matt Wagner has his own way of working.
He works plot first. Before [working with] him I was doing my own series at Tokyopop, writing and drawing it, and because of that I made up my own system. When I started working with Matt, it was probably an easier transition than normal because it was plot first. Of course he gave suggestions sometimes, but this is the first time I’ve worked on a full script.
It’s a little bit harder for me to read, to be honest, but the nice thing is that whatever direction JH gives me, a lot of times it’s what I would have done anyway. It’s nice to think that we’re in agreement as far as the art goes. I really love what he’s written and I think you’re going to like issue zero. I thought it was very clever how it was put together.
When you say that’s how you would have done it is that because you have a similar approach, because you’re trying to imitate the style and design he’s established, or what?
Even though JH is very different in the way that he tells a story, there are certain conventions that a lot of comic book artists use in common. They know when there’s a panel that should be an over the shoulder shot of one character talking to another. They know when there should be an exposition panel where a character is introduced and in what order that should be. The timing of things.
I suppose that when it comes to the parts where JH gets imaginative with the two page layouts that are really, what’s the word, psychedelic? [Laughs.] Obviously that’s a little bit different, but not quite. Not that I did as good of a job, but I’ve played around with things like that. I don’t want it to sound like I think I’m as awesome as JH is, because I definitely do not, but I think that we have more similar approaches than you would think. We have different rendering styles, so it doesn’t seem similar.
I really do love his work. It’s something that I look up to. He’s really trying to push the medium and trying things that people might not have tried before. It’s funny, “Batwoman” #0 comes out with both of us on a lot of the pages collaborating on the art and I’ve seen the final pages colors and all and I feel like it works really seamlessly.
For the “Batwoman” series, though, you’re alternating story arcs as the artist.
Yes. He’s doing the first five issues and then I’m doing the story arc after that.
On “Madame Xanadu” you started working with Richard Friend. Is he inking your work on “Batwoman,” as well?
Yes. And Guy Major will be coloring my issues but he wasn’t able to color the zero issue. Because we were collaborating on the art it made more sense production-wise to have one colorist, so Dave Stewart will be coloring that and it’s just beautiful.
What is it that like about working with Richard and what does he bring to your pages?
I’m not a good inker. What I like about him is that he has an amazing fluidity to what he does. I can give him signals on how to render things and he does a wonderful job at it. He’s always been good at getting along with the artists he inks over. He worked for a very long time with Travis Charest and a very long time with Dustin Nguyen. I think that says something. He makes sure that he has a good relationship with pencilers and does a good job.
He’s also one of the most responsible people in the business. We’re all artists. Working at home and doing something that’s not measurable, like data entry, it can make it very difficult to be timely, but Rich has always been incredibly dependable. He always makes it beautiful. And when he says he’s going to have something done it is, which is a much bigger deal than people realize. It would give me a big headache if I didn’t have that constant to be able to deal with.
The final issue of “Madame Xanadu” is out now and, appropriately enough, you’re drawing it. This is the series that really took your career to another level. Do you have any final thoughts on the experience of working on the book and working with Matt Wagner?
I love "Madame Xanadu." I started with it and it really has done some amazing things for my career, but also I feel close to the character. I will very much miss working with Matt. He’s so collaborative. He put so much faith in me. Nothing was too crazy as far as my ideas went, which is a big deal. Probably the biggest thing about Matt is that he gave me a chance. I know that at first he wasn’t really sure if I would be the artist that he’d want to work with, but he warmed up to the idea and said yes and as soon as he did, Vertigo moved bodies of water for him.
To have somebody like that behind you and have faith in you is so cool. They weren’t planning for me to do covers, for instance, and it was he who said, "no, let her do it. I think the art should be the same as the interior and I think she would make a good cover artist." Things like that. Backing me up while I was trying something that not everybody thought was right. I’ll be forever indebted. I really feel that way. I’m just so appreciative that he gave me a chance.
It was a book where you could really try so many things. Different characters, settings, time periods.
He definitely gave me a crash course in art. I mean I love a challenge. I wouldn’t be on “Batwoman” unless I loved a challenge. I’m definitely not complaining. I think it’s really cool that he played to my strengths, but he also gave me things to learn to be strong at. Coincidentally I had always wanted to study the history of fashion. That was my chance to do that secretly. Designing clothes from different eras and having Madame Xanadu wear an amalgam of all of those. It was cool all around. It was great working with my team. It’s something that I’ll always look back on fondly and I’d love to have another chance to work with Matt one day. We shall see.
Did you know this would be last issue of “Madame Xanadu” before drawing it?
Before I started it? No, I didn’t know that. Back then it was just going to be the last issue of that arc. I think I found out in the summertime that it was being canceled. What I heard was that it had nothing to do with me leaving the book or DC characters going back into the DCU. It had solely to do with the sales. Vertigo had to look at their books that were under a certain bracket and cancel them. So that’s why “Madame Xanadu” is canceled. That’s the only reason I was given. It’s a shame.
On the subject of covers, you took over as cover artist for “Supergirl” a few months back. What attracted you to it?
Well, I happen to very much like doing covers. When you do enough interiors it’s a nice break. DC suggested “Supergirl” to me and once again the first thing that came to mind was an artist that I respect, Josh Middleton. I was familiar with what he was doing on the covers and I was definitely drawn to the idea. Before I started working for Vertigo, my Tokyopop book was a teen drama. And I was going to be a high school teacher. So when somebody says, can you draw a teenager over and over again? Yes. I’m a perpetual teenager so it’s really fun to do that and it’s such a big contrast from Batwoman, it’s nice to switch between the two.
One of things a lot of people enjoy about your “Supergirl” covers and really make the book stand out is that she looks like a teenager and that’s something that doesn’t come across often in how she’s drawn.
[Laughs] No, it doesn’t. Not even specifically with Supergirl, but teenage superheroes in general. I think maybe part of that is just familiarity. From my side, I started out drawing teenagers and so I think I come from a different place. People have mentioned to me that they like that she feels like a teenager and they commented on the fact that I lengthened her skirt and her shirt. I didn’t think I did, actually. I mean I must have, but it wasn’t on my radar. I naturally don’t think of a teenage girl as a sexual object. I was thinking about how clothes would really fit and what someone would really wear and just put that on the page. I’m glad that people are reacting to it in the way that they do and I hope that it’s still very enjoyable. I think it should be. She’s very impressionable and yet she’s very brave in what she tries to do and very likable.
How do you approach cover art? Is it a sales pitch? Should it approximate what’s inside?
It varies a little bit because one of my biggest goals with covers is just diversity. I definitely don’t ever want to be a one-note and that’s the wonderful thing about covers, there’s so many different techniques that you can use. You can have one that’s very iconic. You can have one that makes people ask questions and want to open it up. You can have one that’s symbolic and very cool graphically. I think that I’m pretty story-driven when it comes to covers because it’s really hard for me to come up with ideas unless I have some sort of framework that I’m building around. With “Supergirl,” I’m usually accosting my editors and the writer to figure out what the story is. As far as my goals go it’s really to create something that I really like, when if I saw it on the stands I’d want to open it up. I don’t even know if this is a common technique or not, but I try to have the direction of all the action to carry people from the top left corner to the bottom right so that they’ll want to turn the page.
You have to understand I’m pretty right-brained so I have a hard time realizing when I’m doing things and for what reason I do them. It’s more intuitive. When I’m coming up with an idea, I’m having in mind other people looking at a book and what they’re going to see. I’m basically trying to read people’s minds in the future. I know that sounds really sci-fi, but the goal is to take somebody that you know is probably at point a and move them towards point b. I think that converts to a lot of things, like teaching. That’s what you have to do to get somebody to learn something. You have to find some common ground with them and then move them to the new ground you want to take them to. That’s what I’m trying to do with covers I guess. To get them excited and get them to open that page.
Are you interested in writing again?
Definitely. I’ve really been loving and appreciating so far my experience at DC, but part of me kind of misses my time at Tokyopop, simply because I got to do everything. I don’t think I’m the greatest writer yet, but I’m getting there. I was just reading “Fool’s Gold” the other day and it has some holes. I want to go back to at some point because that’s part of the whole point of comics. That one person can create it. They can have a vision in their brain and basically show everybody what’s going on in it. That’s such an awesome opportunity, why wouldn’t you take it?
One thing that I’d really like to do is adapt a novel. I know that sometimes they don’t use top tier artists and find great ways to adapt them, but I’d actually like to spend a lot of time doing a really good job adapting a novel. Really putting people in the same place that I am when I’m reading it. I have a lot of plans, which hopefully will happen sooner rather than later.
Do you have any particular book in mind?
I’ve had a few. Part of me wonders, by the time I actually get a chance, which one am I going to do. I’ll have this thing that I’d like to do which I’m going to call "Snippets." Basically I am going to do really short scenes, four to eight pages. All different types of stories just to see how people will react to them and see how good of a job I do with each of those and maybe one of them will spark my foray into creator-owned stuff.
If people just watch my blog they’ll find out about it. I’m going to try everything. I’m going to try horror even and some autobiographical stuff. I care very much how people will react to those because I think it will help me figure out what I’ll do next.
I remember the last time we spoke, you mentioned that romance was your favorite genre, which is something we don’t see much in comics anymore.
I do love romance and some of the stories that I’ve come up with are very much romance. They have different backdrops though. Most of them are not straight drama. One is about an insane girl and her mental hospital doctor. It’s got a little bit more concept than just straight romance, but the romance is still the primary aspect in my opinion. I can’t do a story without romance.